Although EPA has taken steps to improve its oversight of facilities'' compliance with the Clean Air Act, it needs to enhance its oversight of states'' processes for reviewing large facilities'' emissions, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report.
GAO completed the report at the request of Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform.
Waxman asked for information on the steps EPA and state regulators take to verify large sources in order to comply with their title V or state permit; the steps regulators take to verify the accuracy of emissions reports submitted by large industrial sources and the extent of errors found; and the steps EPA is taking to improve oversight of these processes.
The report says that federal and state regulators performed about 17,800 routine inspections in fiscal years 1998 and 1999 and found that about 88 to 89 percent of the facilities complied with their permit.
However, according to an EPA air enforcement official, routine inspections do not necessarily identify instances in which the facilities have made physical or operating changes that could increase emissions and require revising their permits.
GAO noted that recognizing this shortcoming, EPA has undertaken intensive investigations targeted at selected facilities in four industries: electric utilities, petroleum refining, pulp and paper mills and wood products.
These investigations found widespread noncompliance with certain air pollution control requirements.
For example, EPA found that 76 percent of wood products facilities that it investigated had made operation changes without revising their permits.
Despite the fact that EPA has taken steps to improve its oversight of facilities'' compliance with the Clean Air Act, GAO concluded that the agency needs to enhance its oversight of the states'' processes for reviewing large facilities'' emissions reports.
"EPA performs limited oversight of states'' efforts to verify large facilities'' emissions reports," stated GAO''s report. "We are recommending that the EPA administrator evaluate states'' programs to determine whether they have adequate mechanisms in place for verifying the accuracy of emissions reports. If the results of these reviews identify inadequacies, the administrator should work with the states to improve their processes."
by Virginia Sutcliffe